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Friendship Trail Bridge recommendation expected tonight from Pinellas, Hillsborough officials

A panel of officials from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties is meeting tonight and is expected to recommend what to do with the Friendship Trail Bridge, which was closed in November 2008 after inspections showed parts of it were eroding.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

A panel of officials from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties is meeting tonight and is expected to recommend what to do with the Friendship Trail Bridge, which was closed in November 2008 after inspections showed parts of it were eroding.

ST. PETERSBURG — For Tom Crowley, the closure of the Friendship Trail Bridge was personal, and he wants it repaired and reopened.

"I've gained 35 pounds since they closed that bridge, and I'm disappointed," the St. Petersburg resident, 60, quipped at a public meeting Tuesday on the pedestrian crossing's future.

But the closure of the 2.6-mile bridge was more than just personal for Crowley, and others in the crowd of 70. The fate of the old Gandy bridge spoke to the Tampa Bay area's priorities.

"This is why we live here in Florida, access to the water, access to the natural resources," said Alan Snel, a bicycling advocate.

A panel of officials from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties is expected to recommend what to do with the old Gandy span during a 7 p.m. meeting today at the Jan Platt Library in Tampa.

The bridge was closed in November 2008 when inspections showed steel tendons that support the span were eroding, cracking and sending shards of concrete into the bay.

Nearly a decade after saving the bridge from demolition, advocates are at the task again.

The most popular option was a $15 million plan to repair the bridge, giving it 10 years more life. If both county commissions agree, they would seek federal stimulus money for the work and perhaps seek money for nearby trails.

That proposal is likely to be the pick, panel member Calvin Harris, a Pinellas commissioner, said afterward.

The three other alternatives include creating fishing piers, and partially or fully demolishing the structure, potentially costing more money.

"Fishing piers are great, but I want to be able to go across the bay," said Dale Krumreich, 66, of Pinellas Park.

But Joe Paige, 52, of Clearwater said it's wrong to use stimulus money on a project that will last only a decade.

"It's interesting to note there was no option five — demolish the bridge and walk away," said one of the few critics to speak.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

FAST FACTS

Panel meets today

What: Friendship Trail Bridge meeting

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Jan Platt Library, 3910 S. Manhattan Ave., Tampa

Friendship Trail Bridge recommendation expected tonight from Pinellas, Hillsborough officials 07/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 10:44pm]
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